Ryan Giggs' goal sank Aston Villa and helped Manchester United keep up the pressure at the top of the Premiership.
The Welshman's left-foot strike in the 41st minute was enough to separate the teams after an entertaining encounter.
Giggs had already forced a great save from Thomas Sorensen before his goal, although at the other end, Lee Hendrie and Liam Ridgewell saw shots saved.
Villa pressed after the break and Gareth Barry came close, but Alan Smith hit the bar in the final minute.
The three points took United into third place in the Premiership on goal difference, the Reds leapfrogging Everton after the Toffees' defeat at Charlton.
United began like a team eager to prove their title credentials, with Wayne Rooney forcing a save from Sorensen inside the first minute.
But Roy Carroll had to be alert to tip Hendrie's curling effort around the post on 10 minutes.
United came back and Giggs broke quickly before unleashing a shot which deflected off Ulises de la Cruz and whistled over.
The Welshman came even closer minutes later as he unleashed a shot which Sorensen managed to tip over.
United were causing plenty of problems and Paul Scholes won a corner with a low drive which deflected off Ridgewell and flew wide.
Villa still threatened and Carroll knew little about Ridgewell's point-blank header on 39 minutes which struck the keeper in the chest.
But two minutes later United were ahead and, fittingly, it was the livewire Giggs who netted, blasting the ball past Sorensen after John O'Shea's pass.
Smith then struck the ball wide as United pressed for a second, while at the other Hendrie nearly levelled with a long range effort which Carroll saved.
After the interval, Carlton Cole squandered an opportunity as the ball appeared to get caught under his feet after Nolberto Solano's through pass.
Nevertheless, Villa pressurised the visitors whose unease was revealed by the way they brought on Roy Keane for John O'Shea just before the hour.
Sir Alex Ferguson had hoped to rest Keane, but clearly felt his team would benefit from the Irishman's presence.
The change seemed to lift United, and after Smith saw a close range effort saved by Sorensen, Cristiano Ronaldo - on as a substitute for Rooney - fired a drive into the side netting.
But still Villa came back, and Carroll did well to block Barry's shot after a cross from the right with United's defence in disarray.
The home side's impetus faded and United should have made it two in injury time - but Smith managed to hit the bar from three yards from Keane's low cross.
Aston Villa: Sorensen, De la Cruz, Mellberg, Ridgewell, Barry, Solano, Hendrie (Whittingham 67), Berson (Stefan Moore 87), Davis, Angel, Cole (Luke Moore 54).
Subs Not Used: Drobny, Postma.
Man Utd: Carroll, O'Shea (Keane 60), Ferdinand, Silvestre, Heinze, Fletcher, Phil Neville, Scholes, Giggs, Rooney (Ronaldo 61), Smith.
Subs Not Used: Bellion, Miller, Howard.
Booked: Ferdinand, O'Shea, Heinze.
Goals: Giggs 41.
Ref: G Poll (Hertfordshire).